Conecuh landfill gets 3-2 approval

Published 9:43 am Monday, April 18, 2011

Opponents of the Conecuh Woods landfill pray during a rally earlier this year held to fight its construction near Repton.|Photo by Kerry Whipple Bean

As a crowd outside the courthouse chanted “No dump,” Conecuh County commissioners voted 3-2 Monday morning to approve a landfill to be located on 5,100 acres near Repton, setting in motion what is likely to be a legal fight over the issue.

Commissioners made no comment other than their “yes” and “no” votes. Jerrold Dean, Wendell Byrd and Leonard Millener voted yes. Hugh Barrow and D.K. Bodiford voted no, with Bodiford saying, “That’s with a capital N and a capital O.”

Landfill opponents vowed to continue their fight against the project, which would see Conecuh Woods LLC building 1,600 acres of disposal cells on property near Repton.

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“We’ll see you in court,” Citizens for a Clean Southwest Alabama Chairman Johnny Andrews said after the commissioners’ vote.

Commissioners left the room immediately after their vote. County Attorney Richard Nix had advised them at the start of the meeting to simply take a roll call vote on the landfill issue.

Repton Mayor Terri Carter said she was confident in the legal team representing CCSA and the Town of Repton.

“We have capable hands taking care of this,” she said. “We feel confident the dump is not coming. We don’t want the public to be worried.”

A crowd had gathered outside the courthouse before the meeting, holding the “No Dump” signs that have been prevalent in Conecuh and Escambia counties since the landfill was first proposed more than four years ago.

Conecuh Woods officials said Monday’s vote was just the first step in the approvals process. Landfill developers have said the project will bring millions of dollars to the county through host fees and potential economic development opportunities.

“Today’s action allows us to move to the next step of the regulatory process for this project,” spokeswoman Rachel Dickinson said. “Before we can actually begin development, this project must be submitted to the regional planning commission and permitted through a rigorous process that ensures Conecuh Woods meets or exceeds all environmental protection laws. If a permit is issued it must be renewed every five years to ensure ongoing compliance.”

Jim Noles, a Birmingham attorney representing the Town of Repton, said he believes the application and approvals process included a number of deficiencies.

“This decision is in violation of the county’s own solid waste act,” he said. “They were required to consider a number of factors based on their solid waste management plan. They chose to pass those down the line for other agencies to consider. The plan is clearly contradictory to a landfill of this nature.”

Noles also said the public notice process was “defective” and that the application included outdated information.

“They talk about the assurances that Conecuh Woods is providing the county, but where is the draft agreement that says how the fees will be laid out?” Noles said.

Nix has previously stated that negotiations on fees could not take place unless their was an approval from the county commission.

Beyond the inevitable lawsuits to be filed over the issue, the status of the landfill application is unclear. The project would still need to gain approval from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Gov. Robert Bentley has ordered a moratorium on new large landfills until the ADEM and the Alabama Department of Public Health can study the regulations for them. And state Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, has proposed legislation that would impose a similar two-year ban on landfills. Baker said the legislation is worded to include landfills, such as Conecuh Woods, that have not reached the final approval from ADEM.

ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said that if the agency gets a formal application from Conecuh Woods, it will conduct a “thorough review.”

“And the process will afford an opportunity for public comment and a public hearing,” he said.